**A PDF version of this document is found in the Community Agency Guide
STEP ONE: Assess the needs of your organization
• Does your agency have unmet needs that could be met by students being trained in a particular area of study? (e.g., help designing a website from computer science students; help researching water quality from biology students)
• Could students learn about a particular subject while serving your agency? (e.g., gerontology students working in a local senior complex; communication students building relationships with clients while delivering meals)
• While brainstorming for potential service-learning projects, some organizations will discover new services they could begin offering through a service-learning. For example, a food shelf might be able to expand its services by partnering with a class focusing on poverty in America; a local nonprofit might be able to create a new fundraising event by partnering with a class focusing on event planning. In other words, think broadly and creatively about the way a campus/community partnership can benefit your organization.
STEP TWO: Assess your agency’s ability to help provide a meaningful and educational service experience for students
• Working with the faculty member and representatives of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning can help you complete this step. That said, it is important all agencies are ready to work with students as they serve the organization.
• As a general rule, agencies should have at least one specific person responsible for helping students understand their roles. Agencies should also have some kind of formal orientation process or send a representative to a class to help students understand their task(s).
• Ideally, organizations will serve as co-teachers of MSU students. We want you to get as much or more than you give, but academic service-learning is meaningful only when agencies help students make connections between service and their educational experiences.
STEP THREE: Make connections with Minnesota State
• One easy way to make a connection is to post the needs of your agency on the Academic Service-Learning Blog (www.msuservicelearning.wordpress.com). You may also contact Minnesota State’s Marilyn Lott (email@example.com; 389-5746) or Stewart Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org; 345-7431). The faculty and staff listed here might also be useful contacts, as they have agreed to serve as MSU service-learning mentors.
• If you would like to start a service-learning project in the fall, it is best to post on the blog and/or contact the above individuals before August 1st. If you would like to begin a service-learning project in the winter, it is best to post your interest on the blog and/or contact the above individuals before November 1st. The blog and the individuals above will help get the word out about your project, but this does not guarantee a specific connection can be made—very often it can, however, and we’ll work hard to try and find a match between agency and classroom.
STEP FOUR: Meet with faculty partner and/or make plans to attend Minnesota State’s Greater Mankato Campus and Community Fair (previously called The Service-Learning Fair)
• MSU currently offers two ways to participate in service-learning. The Greater Mankato Campus and Community Fair is a longstanding event bringing agencies to campus in the fall and winter of each school year. Agencies interested in getting students to participate in their work spend a morning on MSU’s campus. Students from a variety of academic disciplines sign up to serve in a particular agency. Many agencies appreciate this method of connecting with the campus because it allows them to gain easy access to students studying a wide range of subjects.
• Another method of service-learning involves partnering with a specific class on campus. For example, an agency looking to increase its visibility in Mankato might partner with a marketing or public relations class. This arrangement assures the agency they will be working with students who are taking a class to help them acquire the skills the agency needs (e.g., students in a grant writing class helping you write or research grants). One of the main reasons the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning became involved in service-learning is to help agencies form these kinds of partnerships. As mentioned earlier, we cannot, of course, always guarantee a match, but we will do our best to help agencies partner with specific classes and faculty.
• Representatives from MSU will help an agency determine if their project is better suited for the Campus and Community Fair or if it makes sense to partner with one particular class.
STEP FIVE: Welcome students to your agency
• It is important students are oriented in some way to your agency. Sometimes this is done through a formal orientation process; sometimes it is done through a representative visiting a class to inform students about the agency and its role in the community.
• Very early in the process, the agency should communicate clear expectations for students. These expectations are to be emphasized (and re-emphasized) by the faculty member.
• Although MSU students are helping the agency, it should be very clear to students that the agency is doing more than accepting free labor. The agency is serving as a co-teacher for students, helping them grow as citizens and students. Please feel very comfortable respectfully communicating to students exactly what you expect from them while they are working with your agency. (The complete agency guide contains information about how to conduct orientation)
STEP SIX: Maintain structure during the service experience
• The type of structure offered by the agency varies depending on the nature of the service-learning project. Sometimes an agency representative meets with students only once or twice while, for example, students work off-site on a training video for the organization. In other kinds of service projects, students are working directly on-site either with clients or on specific projects within your organization.
• When students are on-site, agencies typically come up with some kind of easily manageable system to keep track of student attendance (although this might also be done by the student and/or faculty member). Agencies also provide continual guidance throughout the process so students remain focused on the task or tasks they are completing for the agency.
• It is also important that, whenever possible, the agency help students reflect on their experience. Reflection is a key component of service-learning; often the faculty member and agency will develop joint strategies to help students understand the significance of their service. Even if this is not done, it is appreciated if agencies can help students reflect through such relatively easy efforts as being aware of course learning objectives, engaging students in informal conversations about these objectives, and simply inviting students to explore the meaning of their activity whenever possible.
STEP SEVEN: Celebrate accomplishments
• When properly planned and implemented, academic service-learning is nearly always rewarding and beneficial. There is no denying, however, that it is also hard work for all involved. At the end of the experience it is very useful if the students and agency celebrate their work together. The agency can highlight what it gained from the students and the students can celebrate what they learned from the service experience.
• Celebrations can take the form of pizza parties (students will generally be happy to pay), multi-media presentations, or a get together at a local coffee shop to present what has been done and learned. The format of the celebration is not important, but it is important that the students, faculty, and agency come together one final time to reflect on their time together.
STEP NINE: Complete assessment forms for students
STEP TEN: Meet with faculty member to debrief
• After the dust settles, it is important to discuss the overall project. What went well? What could be improved upon? Faculty members are encouraged to set up a debriefing session. If by chance you do not hear from them, please don’t hesitate to initiate contact yourself. Only through honest discussion can we continue to make service-learning truly beneficial to all involved.